World Cup 2014 Preview: Dark horse Belgium ready to shine

 

The Sports Network

Head coach Marc Wlimots was hired in May of 2012 after serving as an assistant. He has vast World Cup experience as a player, featuring in three World Cups for Belgium in 1994, 1998 and 2002.

He doesn't have a great deal of coaching experience, but has earned the respect of his team, helping the youthful Red Devils deal with rising expectations during a hugely successful qualifying campaign.

Placed in Group A of UEFA qualifying, Belgium sailed through the campaign, collecting an impressive unbeaten mark of 8-0-2 while conceding just four goals en route to a first-place finish in Group A.

Things seem to have fallen perfectly into place for Belgium over the past few years and the club heads to South America with a fleet of outstanding young talent ready to shine on the big stage for years to come.

At the head of the stable of young talent is Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard, who, at just 22 years of age, has experience leading a team as he guided Ligue 1 side Lille to a domestic title before arriving at Stamford Bridge.

During his time with Chelsea he quickly became the Blues' most potent offensive weapon and showed an impeccable ability to collect the ball on the flanks and dance around defenders to create his own scoring opportunities.

Everton winger Kevin Mirallas will play opposite Hazard, while fellow Evertonian Romelu Lukaku will lead the line while Aston Villa forward Christian Benteke is on the sidelines recovering from an Achilles injury.

At just 20 years of age, Lukaku had an outstanding season on Merseyside on loan from Chelsea and will be motivated to show Blues boss Jose Mourinho he deserves a place in Chelsea's starting 11 and could be the breakout player of the tournament.

With a youthful side, it will be up to captain and Manchester City defender Vincent Kompany to keep everyone on an even keel as the competition progresses.

Kompany steered the Citizens to a second Premier League title in three years last season and showed his value as a leader of men, as City struggled in league play when Kompany missed time.

His motivational skills, organization and the manner in which he leads by example will all be crucial qualities in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of a major tournament.

Placed in Group H along with Algeria, Russia and South Korea, it isn't the most difficult draw, but the Belgians must remain focused and professional during the group stage as there is a lingering worry that a lack of quality opposition in the group stage could sap of their sharpness, but influential figures like Kompany must keep the team focused and grounded.

Unless something truly catastrophic occurs, the Red Devils should have little trouble reaching the knockout stage. 2014 could be the start of something special for the young Belgians.

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